As a reader, if a story doesn’t have well executed character goals, motivations, and both inner and external conflicts, then most likely you aren’t ever going to finish that story. All writers use the GMC formula in some way to craft a story. Finding these GMCs is a important part of plotting. Some writers use elaborate methods to plot a story, to the point of practically writing it before they write the first draft. But today I’m going to explain my process, something I call a pantser’s guide to plotting.
An oxymoron for sure. Since the definition of a pantser (a nickname for “writing by the seat of the pants”) is someone who DOES NOT plot. Anyone who knows me knows I define myself as a tried and true pantser. Most of the time I never know what my next scene will be. I don’t do mind maps; I don’t have bulletin boards with index cards of every action; I don’t like Scrivener, and I don’t have an outline. I like to let the story unfold before me as I fill the blank page with words. However, I always know how the story will end. I know what has to change in my characters’ lives to bring them to the end, but I don’t always know how they get to that happy ending. What I do know is something changes in their lives to bring them to this point. I know their character arcs, and what they had to overcome to have that HEA. The hows and whys of them getting to the end comes to me as I write.
Okay, now you’re scratching your heads. Trust me I’ve done that more than once myself. I may not plot a story, but I do learn about my characters. How I do this is by making sure I have a clear understanding of what makes them tick. Once I decide on an idea for a story, I soon figure out who the key players will be—the hero/heroine and antagonist/s. I figure out what their back-stories are. What led these characters to find themselves in this story idea? Then I think about where I want them to be at the end of the story. How do I want them to be different from the characters I’ve created from their pasts? I don’t do character interviews, but I write down everything that I can think of about the characters—descriptions, personalities, jobs, relationships, what would bring fear to them, what would bring them joy. I figure out what their goals are, what motivates them, and what would bring them conflict and how they might respond to that conflict. I even decide on the quirks in their personalities, and more importantly, why are these quirks important. I do this for every major character. I still have no idea how their stories will enfold, but I do know that I, indeed, have a story.
The only thing left is to figure out how the characters best want to tell it and let them do the talking.
Of course, I do occasionally take this process a step further and jot down a simple two page synopsis of what the story might be. I still don’t consider this true plotting, since I simply figure out what the turning points are and write them. How the characters get to each turning point is totally a mystery until I start writing. But as an established author, my last two novels were sold on proposal, and I just submitted a third proposal, for which I’m waiting to hear back. For Heartsong, I had a blurb, synopsis and first four chapters. For Heartland, I sold it on a blurb and a very skimpy synopsis.
My process has changed somewhat, but for the most part, I am, and forever shall be, a pantser.
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